Sunday, February 7, 2010

HOPE Volunteer Struggles to Find Long-Term Care for Injured Haitians

"What I worry about the most is that they won't get the care they need after they leave the ship," says Project HOPE volunteer Carma Erickson-Hurt with tears in her eyes. The 43-year-old nurse from North Bend, Oregon, talks about the patients she cares for on the USNS Comfort, about 200 of them, who have been treated on this hospital ship and are about to be discharged.

That's where Carma's work begins, finding them the proper medical facility that will take care of the long-term therapies many of them need.

"I am just not sure whether there are enough hospitals and medical centers equipped to address all the special needs of the patients. Many of them are paralyzed, lost a limb or two, are blind or deaf, where are they going to get the treatment they need," she asks.

"Many of my patients also told me they fear to be abandoned by their communities after losing a limb. It's a different culture but I think it will change. So many Haitians lost an arm or a leg or even both," the wife of a retired U.S. Navy master chief says.

Carma, who teaches health assessment, classes at the Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, is volunteering as the Chief Nursing Officer for Project HOPE. Three years ago she retired from the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps after serving for 20 years.

"When the earthquake in Haiti happened I went immediately to Project HOPE's Web site to find out how to sign up as a volunteer," she says. "When I was still active in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps I helped Project HOPE with the logistics on the USNS Mercy. I knew I could help Project HOPE to get settled in while arriving on the USNS Comfort."

Despite all the challenges, physical and emotional, Carma shows no signs of resignation. "Most of my patients are incredibly thankful for what we do here for them. Many told me that they were praying to get on board, that they knew they would be safe once they have arrived on the Comfort."

"This morning one of our patients, an elderly woman I discharged, would rest her hand on my cheek for a moment, thanking me and saying 'you are my daughter'," she says.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti.

Story and photo by HOPE volunteer and photojournalist Astrid Riecken

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